There's the story of a group of Irish lads who, on their journey, came to a wall too high to climb. Their solution? They threw their caps over the wall, so they had no choice but to follow them!
I've been struggling to get past some brick walls that relate to my mother's Scots-Irish ancestors. I can get back to the early or mid 19th century in Scotland or Ireland, but the trail goes cold there. So this past week I tried throwing my cap over the wall to see what would happen.
I went into my list of DNA matches and found all of the people with whom I matched at low confidence or better who had direct ancestors from Northern Ireland. (I also inspected the very low confidence matches that I had starred.) I made an Excel spreadsheet that listed their ancestors' names, dates and place of birth, the id of the individual I matched, and the degree of confidence. I then sorted the more than 900 matches by name and date.
I took the sorted list and identified any entries in which the same ancestor was listed independently by two or more of my matches. I then examined the individual trees according to these criteria:
1. There had to be enough detail in the entries that I could be sure that my matches in fact had the same ancestor.
2. There had to be primary source documentation for that ancestor--I eliminated any that were copied from other trees without independent sourcing.
3. The matches had to be related to the common ancestor along different lines of descent.
4. The family lines had to make sense in terms of what I know about my family and the patterns of my other DNA matches.
When I did this I was left with five families on the list, two each from Antrim and Tyrone and one from Armagh. In each case, there was an ancestor who was shared by my matches who immigrated from Ulster to the United States in the early 18th century. Four of the five went initially to Pennsylvania and one to North Carolina. Their families then dispersed over the generations, mainly along the Appalachians, but also to Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas, Utah, Texas and Oregon.
This gave me a few interesting possibilities. I've long wondered why I have so many DNA matches from the Appalachian region, when my documented family ancestry stems mainly from 19th century immigrants to Western Pennsylvania. This new information suggests that, several generations earlier, ancestors of my Scots-Irish family were part of an earlier immigration to the colonies whose families have flourished in those parts.
I also now have a wider list of surnames to be alert for in investigating my DNA matches and tree hints. There is the possibility of working from both sides of the wall to see if I can eventually link one or more of these families to my known ancestors.
If we get some additional analytical tools, I'll be able to see if these theories hold up. With an "in common with" tool, I can see whether the people who share a common ancestor also share a DNA match. And with a chromosome comparison tool, I can determine whether all of us match on the same segment, which would strengthen the case for shared ancestry.
Just thought I'd pass this on, in case you find yourself facing a wall.
Comments and suggestions welcome.